Saturday, December 12, 2009

December 12: deadboy & The Elephantmen, "We Are Night Sky"

Artist: deadboy & The Elephantmen
Album: We Are Night Sky
Year: 2005
Label: Fat Possum

Those artists who are able to play an amazingly eclectic range of musical styles, yet make each one unquestionably "their own" are very few and far between. While many musicians can pull off one or two variations on their overall sound, beyond that, though many try, a majority simply end up with second-rate "filler" songs on their records. As recording technology has advanced, performers with "real" talent have become fewer and fewer, and in many cases, those musicians with the most raw skill are left to the "indie" labels, as the "major" labels seem to no longer know how to market "real" music. Without question, Dax Riggs is one of the most talented and mesmerizing performers in the current music scene, and though his solo debut was by far the best record of 2007, the album and group with whom he released his previous record also stand as one of the finest moments of the past decade. With any of Riggs' early bands, whether it was Acid Bath, Agents Of Oblivion, or deadboy & The Elephantmen, the same "raw rock" formula is present, and the results keep getting better as the years progress. This makes it clear what an amazing talent lives within Riggs, yet each group is able to create a slightly different sound, as his early bands were far more metal, while deadboy is more straightforward "garage rock." With somewhere between one and three official releases, depending on how you look at it, there is no question that deadboy & The Elephantmen did their best to rejuvenate the rock and roll scene with their blistering 2006 release, We Are Night Sky.

While it's "in store" release date was in early 2006, those fervent fans of Riggs and his various projects were able to purchase the album off of the internet in late 2005. Technically, We Are Night Sky is actually the second full length release from deadboy & The Elephantmen. In 2006, the group recorded an album titled If This Is Hell, Then I'm Lucky, but after a number of issues with their label at the time, the album was released in very small quantities, and quickly went out of print. In 2008, Dax Riggs "re-released" the album, again as a "solo" album form him, and it provided a much clearer picture of his evolution as an artist. With this in mind, the fact of the matter is, Riggs' 2007 album, We Sing Of Only Blood Or Love was actually slated to be the next (third) deadboy & The Elephantmen release. However, the group dissolved during the "downtime" between releases, and this is what led Dax Riggs to release We Sing Of Only Blood Or Love as his own "solo" album. The players on that record are, in fact, the final incarnation of deadboy & the Elephantmen, and the much of the same lineup is featured on We Are Night Sky. This is why there is a great amount of similarity between the two records, yet this is not a bad thing, as We Are Night Sky truly represents everything that makes raw rock and roll so fantastic.

Though there are a handful of additional musicians in deadboy & the Elephantmen, the group is actually only "formally" comprised of two musicians: Riggs and drummer Tessie Brunet. The pair met after Riggs had auditioned a large number of players after ending his previous band, Agents Of Oblivion. Though many will compare their makeup and musical approach to another male/female garage-rock duo, deadboy & The Elephantmen are far heavier and more musically explosive than their more well known counterparts. Brunet is absolutely fantastic on every song found on We Are Night Sky, and it is almost unfathomable when one learns that she had only been playing drums for a matter of months before beginning her work with Riggs. Regardless, the two gel perfectly, and whether it is the rock and roll train of "Blood Music" or the eerie, yet beautiful sounds of "No Rainbow," there is nothing musically that is off limits to the pair. Both musically and vocally, the two compliment one another, and the light vocal touches and punctuation that Brunet adds throughout the record is the key factor that makes We Are Night Sky sound like nothing else Riggs has ever released. Literally running the entire musical gamut, every song is just as good as the next, and it's clear that both musicians have a firm grasp on how to properly create amazingly dark moods without becoming cliché. This is again where deadboy & The Elephantmen reign supreme, as in comparison, Riggs' later forays into the dark seem a bit artificial when one hears the more natural, stunning creations found on We Are Night Sky.

As is the case on every record on which he appears, Dax Riggs is the spotlight of We Are Night Sky, and the album is further support for him being one of the most talented musicians of his generation. With a voice that is often both mesmerizing and unsettling simultaneously, there is simply nobody else quite like Riggs anywhere in the music scene. Clearly a man with a love for the darker side of life, the amount of emotion and mood he is able to convey through his voice is truly uncanny. Revealing many of his influences, one can hear raw, stripped down sounds on the folky "No Rainbow" to the "Iggy Pop meets Kate Pierson" sound of the albums' sensational opening track, "Stop, I'm Already Dead." There is also a heavy "glam rock" sound on many of the songs, most notably, the later part of "How Long The Night Was." From his high-octane, high-powered delivery to his quiet, often melancholy styles, regardless of the volume or mood, Riggs excels on every song. Also, more than any of his other releases, showcases Dax Riggs' ability to spin brilliantly beautiful and emotional songs into a ballad-like sound, yet ensuring that they retain the dark, edgy feel of the rest of his music. It is perhaps no finer than on the echoey, simple "Evil Friend," featuring just a lone guitar and vocals that sound as if they are being done through an old tape recorder in a bathroom. Presenting so many varying styles, yet retaining a common, uncanny feeling of dispair and darkness, We Are Night Sky is an album of such amazing stature, that one must experience it firsthand to fully appreciate the genius within.

Looking at the entire body of work from Dax Riggs to date, it's hard to argue that We Are Night Sky is not his most solid performance thus far. While his previous records put far more emphasis on the louder, heavier sounds, and his later release, while stunning, is almost a bit "artificial" in comparison, We Are Night Sky strikes the perfect balance of everything that makes Dax Riggs one of the most intriguing musicians in the current music scene. Quite literally, every song on We Are Night Sky is nothing short of phenomenal, and the record stands in many ways, as a darker, perfected version of the formula which The White Stripes had been striving to achieve. The comparisons between the two groups is inevitable, yet one cannot deny the fact that the more organic, more musically adventurous sound of deadboy & The Elephantmen is the superior sound, though it did not gain any commercial notoriety. The pairing of Dax Riggs and Tessie Brunet proves to be one of the most stunning musical dynamics in recent history, and the way in which they interact with one another yields some of the most superb, and clearly spontaneous music ever created. Though it is rather difficult to find a "bad" record on which Dax Riggs performs, to fully understand why he is perhaps the most exciting musician in the current music scene, one need look no further then the magnificent 2005 release from deadboy & The Elephantmen, We Are Night Sky.

Standout tracks: "Stop, I'm Already Dead," "Blood Music," and "Evil Friend."

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